August: Osage County ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
August: Osage County is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts. Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the foul-mouthed head of an unhappy Oklahoma family. She has “a touch of cancer” and for years has taken far too many pills. Her husband, Beverly (Sam Shepherd), is an alcoholic, an intellectual and a used-to-be poet. They have three daughters in their forties. Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the oldest of the three. She has marital problems and a smart-mouthed fourteen-year-old daughter named Jean. Barbara can match her mother blow for blow in the bitch department. The two of them are so much alike they can’t stand each other. Ivy is the plain middle daughter who has never found the right man but has somehow latched onto someone that, for reasons that become clear, she can’t have. Karen, the third daughter, left home years ago and never looked back. She enjoys the fast life in Miami.
Unhappy Beverly (not often a man’s name in the U.S. but is in this instance) disappears and then is found dead. (Was it an accident or did he kill himself?) With his death, all the wayward family members come home: Barbara with her daughter and estranged husband, Karen with her fifty-year-old adolescent boyfriend, Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, Mattie Fae’s husband, Charles, and her son, Little Charles. Johnna, the Indian woman that Beverly hired as a maid right before he died, lurks in the background, a mostly silent observer until something happens that riles her. There is an ugly confrontation at the funeral dinner, with Violet and Barbara almost killing each other. One thing you can say for these family members is that they aren’t repressed. They don’t bother themselves too much with tact or diplomacy in their dealings with each other.
Meryl Streep is superb, as always, as Violet Weston. She dominates the movie and makes the part her own. You can’t imagine anybody else doing it any better. She won’t win an Oscar because she’s already won three times and won two years ago, but for my money she should win. Other standouts in the cast are Margo Martindale as Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, who has carried around a secret far too long; Chris Cooper as Mattie Fae’s kind husband, Charles (his rambling grace at the dinner table is a highlight); Benedict Cumberbatch as Margo’s man-child son, Little Charles, who has always been a disappointment to his mother. (“He watches so much TV,” she says, “his brain is soft.”)
August: Osage County is funny and dark with memorable characters and dialogue. It’s not for everybody, of course, but the serious moviegoer who appreciates a fine movie adaptation of a great play should find plenty here to make the trip worthwhile.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp